by Marissa Johnson, Mass Story Coordinator

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to present on behalf of Mass Story Lab at the Facing Race conference in Atlanta, GA. Facing Race is a national conference on racial justice put on by Race Forward that brings together academics, advocates, community organizers, artists, policy-makers, and more, for the cause of working together to end racism and work towards equality and justice. The honesty and vision from speakers such as Michelle Alexander, Roxane Gay, and Jose Antonio Vargas was impactful and centering. With well over 2,000 people in attendance from all over the U.S., the power in every room was palpable and undeniable, though the tone was heavy and full of uncertainty, sorrow, and fear in reaction to the recent election results. Attendees and speakers alike shared in their emotions and collective imagination of a United States free of oppression.

Despite the differences we share, be it of race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship status, ability, age, class, etc., the message emanating through and through Facing Race was that through a newfound, serious commitment to solidarity, we shall all overcome. It could be seen in the sharing of ideas, strategies, and resources, the intentional community spaces and forums for all voices, the deep listening, curiosity, and learning that happened, and more, in the countless sessions and presentations at the conference.

In our own session for Mass Story Lab, our goal was to spread the vision of the project, as well as to garner interest in potential partnerships with like-minded organizations to bring MSL to communities around the country. Co-facilitated by myself and Sharda Sekaran, Mass Story Advisor, the session moved beyond an informational presentation about the problem of mass incarceration, to a focused conversation on organizing and action. All participants shared in discussion groups about how incarceration has impacted their lives. We also brainstormed ways in which the power of storytelling could be harnessed in our respective roles and organizations to help end the prison industrial complex in our own communities. It was invigorating and rewarding to see the connections that were made and the genuine interest in partnership to bring MSL to more cities in the coming years.

All throughout the weekend, between plenaries, meals, speakers, and breakout sessions, one woman on stage repeatedly sang three simple lines over and over again:

What is your dream today?

What is my dream today?

Joy, for the suffering people.

As I return and adjust back to reality with renewed urgency and commitment, these lines keep repeating in my head, over and over.